Future Coug comes on strong in QB showdown

MIAMI – The faceoff between two touted Florida prep quarterbacks on Saturday in a pivotal District 16-5A game was a nail biter that started about as inauspiciously as possible for Washington State verbal commit Peyton Bender. The Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons signal caller threw an interception on his first pass of the game. And the defensive back doing the thievery wasn't just anybody.

It was Miami Jackson High safety Quinton "Winky" Flowers, who jumped the route and picked off Bender as he tried to flutter the ball out-of-bounds.

Flowers plays both ways for Jackson. On offense, he is multi-dimensional and rated one of the top receiving prospects in the land by Scout.com. But those on the local prep scene know he is one of the best QB prospects in Florida. He recently turned down Nebraska, Texas and a host of others offering him as an "athlete" in order to verbally commit to South Florida as a quarterback.

"That doesn't bother him," Gibbons coach Michael Morrill said of Bender's pick to start the game. "It was one of those plays -- not a big deal. He had pressure all night and he still got the ball off and did a great job. They were pressing our receivers and being physical with them and he had to be precise and he got the job done."

And did he ever.

Bender, who this week was raised to a 3-star prospect by Scout.com, rebounded to finish 23-for-41 with 307 yards, four touchdowns and no other interceptions. He found five different receivers as the Chiefs (7-0) clinched a postseason berth in a 31-30 victory over the Generals (3-4).

HIS SECOND COMPLETION of the game went to senior Christian Blake for a 55-yard touchdown. Blake made a leaping catch, eluded a tackle and maintained his balance as he raced another 20 yards into the end zone.

With 49.1 seconds remaining before halftime, Bender's 6-yard crossing pattern to senior George Rushing gave Cardinal Gibbons a 17-8 lead. Bender got in a groove after intermission, completing nine of 11 passes to begin the second half. He had just two in his first eight throws of the night.

Rushing and Bender connected again on an 18-yard touchdown via a post route.

"He put it there," Rushing said. "I told him, ‘Just put it there.' Peyton put it there. I told him, ‘I've got you, and he did it.'"

Senior Sam Kuebler caught Bender's last touchdown -- a 5-yarder -- wide open in the back of the end zone.

Ahead 31-16 with 1:41 left in the third quarter, two special teams touchdowns by Jackson put the Generals back in it at 31-30.

Getting the ball back with about six minutes to play, Cardinal Gibbons looked to Bender's arm to tuck the game away. Twice the unit converted on third downs – one via a pass and one on a pass-interference call.

Before the drive, Bender told his teammates to stay focused. They had practiced the two-minute drill enough to have confidence in themselves.

"He's a dependable quarterback and he's consistent," Rushing said. "We just prove ourselves week-to-week."

AS HE HAS already done over the course of the season, Bender broke another program mark during the drive, this time Fred Buckley's single-season yardage (1,890) set in 1980.

"It's awesome," Bender said. "It's definitely an honor because I know there have been some great quarterbacks come through Gibbons. I have to thank my offensive line and receivers. They're the ones making the plays. I'm just getting them the football."

Cardinal Gibbons entered the game averaging 44 points per game, while Jackson allowed 19.5. Bender, who said he could get better with his "decision-making at times rather than trying to fit the ball into tight windows," said he will watch film and critique his play to fix any issues.

"They had great pass coverage and pressure throughout the game," Bender said. "I needed to make sure I was going through my reads and we played well. Receivers played great and the line played awesome."

Bender's stats on Saturday: 24 of 41 for 307 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INTs, 2 sacks

Bender's stats for the season: 144 of 203 for 1,948 yards, 27 TDs, 4 INTs, 6 sacks

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